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Motivation and the Limits of Empathy

One of the primary topics of study in the EMP Lab is empathy: the ability to vicariously resonate with and share the experiences and feelings of others.

The EMP Lab examines when and why people feel and behave empathically toward others.  This line of research is united by the framework that empathy is often a motivated choice: many apparent limitations of empathy may result from how people strategically weigh its costs and benefits.  This research focuses on motivational factors that cause people to either down-regulate or up-regulate empathy, as well as emotion regulation mechanisms (e.g., reappraisal, situation selection, attention allocation) that shape empathic outcomes.

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Affective Dynamics of Moral Judgment

When we decide whether an action is morally right or wrong, or whether a person deserves punishment and blame, are we driven by the heart or the head?

The answer to this question, which traces from Plato through Hume to the present day, turns out to be both.  Emotions are multifaceted and complex phenomena, built from concepts, core affect, and the situations around us.  Paying due attention to the dynamic construction of emotions can greatly advance our knowledge about how people manage their moral lives.  In recent work, we have applied constructionist models of the mind to understand the relationship between affect, emotions, and moral judgment.  This constructionist perspective is novel for the field of moral psychology, because it challenges assumptions about emotions and moral domains as natural kinds, and instead suggests examining how domain-general mechanisms of affect, attention, and conceptual knowledge interact to shape moral decision-making.

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